Expatica news

Foreigners detained over pro-Tibet protest in China

6 August 2008

BEIJING – Two United States and two British citizens were detained on Wednesday after a pro-Tibet protest near Beijing’s National Stadium two days ahead of the Olympic opening ceremony.

Two of the foreigners, both British men, scaled 120-foot light posts and unfurled 140-square-foot banners calling for a Tibet free from China’s rule near the stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, according to Students for a Free Tibet, a New York-based group which organised the protest.

The Xinhua news agency quoted police confirming the protest happened.

The website of the Free Tibet 2008 campaign group named the two Britons as Iain Thom, 24, from Edinburgh and Lucy Marion, 23, from London.

A spokesman for the British Embassy in the Chinese capital said it was aware of reports that two British nationals had been detained and officials were in touch with the Chinese authorities.

The protest occurred around 5:47 am, about two hours before the day’s part Olympic torch relay began in Beijing, and two days before the Olympics opening ceremony is scheduled to take place at the stadium.

One banner read in large black letters "One World One Dream Free Tibet" and hung down a pole as one of the activist clung to the pole, according to a picture shown on the American TV station ABC New’s website.

The second banner read, "Tibet Will Be Free" in English and "Free Tibet" in Chinese, the group said.

Within 10 minutes of the banners’ unfurling, firemen arrived in fire trucks with extended ladders and removed them, ABC said.

After police arrived, the two men climbed down and police checked their identification, but did not handcuff them, ABC said. Xinhua said the four – three men and one woman – were led away by police.

One climber, who identified himself as Iain from Edinburgh (Iain Thom), spoke to ABC News via mobile phone while climbing down.

"I’ll probably get detained by the police and then ejected out of the country but I believe it’s not anywhere near the risk or the fear that Tibetans are living under the occupation of the Chinese government," he said.

The four entered China on tourist visas. Their current whereabouts are unknown, and their mobile phones have been turned off, Kate Woznow, the group’s campaign director, told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa later.

"They felt with the Olympics about to open and the Chinese government’s ongoing crackdown on Tibet, that it was really important to make the statement at this time, sort of a peaceful but bold statement to show solidarity for Tibetans," Woznow said.

The incident comes two days after China said two men in its restive Xinjiang region attacked a group of armed police with explosives and knives, killing 16 officers and injuring 16 others. The incident was blamed on Muslim Uighur "terrorists".

Beijing Olympic organising committee spokesman Sun Weide told reporters later Wednesday that the foreigners gathered illegally.

"The Chinese government has very clear laws and regulations pertaining to demonstrations and protest and we hope that foreigners abide by these laws and regulations," Sun said.

"We oppose any attempts to politicise the Games and we hope that foreigners accept our rules and laws pertaining to demonstrations and protests."

The Tibetan issue has proven to be the most embarrassing for China in its quest to hold a successful Olympic Games – the first it’s hosting – and showcase a modern, friendly and strong China to the world.

[dpa / Expatica]